Learning: Idea Hunters

A new role for boards in an age of innovation, according to Boston College's Dean Andy Boynton.

A new role for boards in an age of innovation, according to Boston College’s Dean Andy Boynton.

If volunteer leaders and CEOs want to identify new association opportunities, they must become interested, diverse, exercised, and agile “idea hunters,” as Boston College Carroll School of Management Dean Andy Boynton calls them.

“Although most organizations win based on having great ideas, we still focus on cash, customers, and other things, rather than on ideas as a key resource, one that must be intentionally managed to be more innovative and creative,” says Boynton.

Dedicated tools, tactics, and tracking can help. First, though, leaders should forget one common assumption about innovation—that ideas must be original to succeed.

“Originality is overrated and rare,” Boynton says. “The point is to find useful ideas, put them into play, and get going. … Most innovation is about taking old ideas and putting them together in different ways.”

That frees everyone to look everywhere, including at different industries that have undergone similar challenges. As Boynton notes in his book, The Idea Hunter, even organizations with little diversity can upgrade ideas if they tap nontraditional sources and limit exposure to colleagues’ well-trod paths.

Another tactic is to create “a balance sheet of sources” for board members’ usual ideas. “They often find it surprising and alarming that the sheet shows a narrow bandwidth of sources—or ‘weak ties’—for content,” says Boynton, whose keynote opens ASAE’s Great Ideas Conference in March.

Possible responses include recruiting diverse meeting speakers, holding quarterly lunches with nonindustry observers, and broadening reading lists. Boynton recommends an idea exchange on every board agenda, input from young professionals with “different kinds of idea webs,” and a group “diary” that archives conversations and new contacts.

“Most people make their living based on ideas in their head,” Boynton says. “But great ideas aren’t going to find us; we have to find them.”

(Digital Storm/Thinkstock)

Kristin Clarke, CAE

By Kristin Clarke, CAE

Kristin Clarke, CAE, is books editor for Associations Now and president of Clarke Association Content. MORE

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